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Interview with Rich Vancil: Group VP, Executive Advisory of IDC

I have known Rich Vancil, the Group VP, Executive Advisory of IDC, for nearly 30 years.  As the founder of a software company, Black Ink, we often rely on his guidance to help shape our strategy.

Once and awhile, we meet up for lunch to catch up on life outside business.  Given all of his wisdom, I thought it would be fun to tap into what is inside Rich’s mind as he and his team continuously provides counsel to some of the best CMOs in the country. I particularly like his take on CMOs that need to remain specialists, and not generalists.  Of course, surrounding oneself with other specialists rounds out the complete picture.


From your very earliest days at The Ledgeway Group (now D&B) right out of Harvard B School, to now heading up the IDC CMO council, you have always seemed to center your career around insights and guidance for B2B tech executives. Was this a deliberate choice at the outset, or did it just naturally evolve over the course of your career?

My first job out of college was as an Account Executive for AT&T Information Systems. I sold office telephone systems to junk-yards and gritty manufacturers in the outskirts of Providence.  But since I was the only sales rep willing  to call on these places, I cleaned up !  My choice was always to stay in the IT area.

In my  research and consulting business, I have decided to go narrow and deep into the marketing and selling practices just of IT vendors operating at large scale in the B2B areas.  The marketing and selling motions in B2B vs. B2C are just too broad – too far apart from each other – to try to be an expert in both.


Since we have known each other of the past 25 years, we have both witnessed amazing tech trends.  IDC keeps touting the “third platform” as the next wave of innovation of advancement.  What is it? And why should CMOs pay attention to it?

The IDC 3rd Platform is a broad term for our present IT industry and economy.  It is where 100% of WW IT revenue growth is coming from and it includes the product categories of: Mobile; Social; Cloud, and Big Data.  The 3rd Platform is eclipsing the 2nd Platform – described broadly as the “last 30 years” of IT, and this has been mainly enterprise computing: Lan / Internet; Client / Server; and premised based infrastructure such as servers, storage, and licensed software.


B2B Tech CMOs tenures keep fluctuating between 18 months to 60 months. This can be quite alarming to marketing professionals who think making it to the top can be quickly erased.  What are the drivers that causes this instability of this revered “title” retention?

The main instability is that the demands for CMO role performance keeps rising. The CMO finds that the current position is not a good fit; or his CEO finds that out for him. All CMO’s today need to be good technologists: they need to be data-driven marketers, and there are very few who have those deep skills. Also, going back to the industry shift from 2nd Platform to 3rd Platform:  these new 3rd Platform opportunities are hugely attractive to a CMO in a 2nd Platform company who feels he / she should jump into a hotter opportunity.

[Author’s note: Below is a graph that outlines the “rocks” that CMOs are challenged to address over a course of time. The size of the bubble indicated size/complexity to address.  In the tech industry, IDC predicts the CMO job turnover will continue at the rate of 25% per year through 2018. Some of the other bubbles are aligned with Black Ink’s 2016 recent research shared by the top F500 companies in the world, that includes technology and other categories such as CPG, retail, etc.]


MarTech is a big deal. Maybe not as big as the universally accepted commercial use of the Internet. But can you think of any other time in your career where such a sea change universally swept marketers into such a frenzy?

MarTech is a big deal. IDC is doing a very careful accounting of this area and we now account for  78 separate product / service categories and literally thousands of vendors. Like any other emerging and fast growth IT category, consolidation will be inevitable. But in the meantime it makes for a daunting set of choices for the CMO and team. I have been urging the CMOs for several years to “work across the aisle” with their CIO, as a partner in this area. It’s a company issue and opportunity: not just a marketing issue.  But the CMO +CIO partnership is simply not coming along fast enough.  This is disappointing  and it’s a huge “miss” at this time.  The CEO probably needs to get more involved, to make it happen.


I thought Individual Inc., where you were the VP of Marketing over 15 years ago, was an awesome precursor to much of what the old school newspapers are trying to execute now – which is to say, balancing free and gated content on a personalized basis. Do you think Individual Inc. was a company was too ahead of the marketplace? Or does this just underscore how far behind the distribution of content via daily newspapers are today? Maybe it is both!


IDC has an awesome conference called IDC Directions, hosted on both US coasts in March. In a private and personal session, what would be the one piece of career advice you would like to offer to a CMO?

CMO’s come in three basic flavors.  You can be the really good mar-comm CMO and your skills at are awareness building  and branding and those areas.  You can be the Product-marketing CMO and you probably had a lot of experience in the product lines, launching new products and building demand.  Or you can be the Revenue or Sales CMO: perhaps you ran a region or regions and you were the GM for the business.  My advice is: no single  CMO comes in all three flavors at once and so you  need to know which flavor you are, and then surround yourself with others who complement you: because the effective CMO MUST be able to operate in those three domains of Marketing: corporate, product, and field.


You played golf in college. What is your handicap now compared to then?

My present handicap is that I just had my fifth spinal fusion and so: no more golf!!  I am presently concentrating on my championship rodeo riding aspirations.


If you were an executive at Gartner, how would you characterize Rich Vancil’s unique attributes?

Haha. I would say that Rich has the ability to take complex issues, and to simplify and clarify those issues for his clients or his audience.   The best analysts can simplify, simplify.  Analysts who try to impress by using  big words and complex frameworks…end up confusing their audience and so they become ineffective.

By Jeff Winsper

Jeff is the President of Black Ink and offers more than 20 years of leadership experience in marketing, serving companies ranging from Fortune 500 to start ups.

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